The Time Comes to Unite?
Here it is! A four-year build-up finally leading us to what we’ve all been waiting for… All of our favorite DC comic book heroes uniting within one epic film as the prodigious Justice League! Luckily for us, the DC studio took proper care, time, and effort in establishing their cinematic universe with all who inhabit the world so that the audience was able to grow a familiarity and emotional bond for the characters along with their personal journeys…
Wait, hold on. What’s that? Superman was given one and a half movies where he wasn’t fleshed out in the slightest? Batman was provided half a movie he had to share with about a dozen other plots happening all simultaneously? There was a Suicide Squad movie that has nothing to do with the Justice League at all? But Wonder Woman was allowed at least one kick-ass flick of her own? What about the rest of the heroes; Cyborg, Flash, and Aquaman? Oh, they were used as mini teaser trailers in another film and this is the first time they’re officially being introduced to the franchise in a hero team-up movie? Cool.
Pushing Passed the Obvious Issues
Despite the several problems I have with how the franchise and the characters have been handled between 2013, starting with Man of Steel all the way into 2017, I will say that it is partially refreshing to see the DCEU attempt to establish their cinematic universe relatively different than how Marvel handled their own buildup to 2012’s The Avengers. No, we don’t get the privilege in getting to know each character or their origins on such an intimate level as Marvel had accomplished prior, but at least DC is trying their hardest in executing an unorthodox approach to bring their characters to life. While admittedly very clumsy at times, I do have a strange appreciation for the series going against a typical formula, leaping headfirst into this cinematic universe.
Jury is Still Out
For the last few years, the case has been made abundantly clear that the 2017 Justice League we received in theaters was not exactly Zack Snyder’s vision of the project. In the off chance that anyone reading this article is unaware, during the production of Justice League, Snyder and his family were struck with a terrible tragedy with the abrupt loss of his daughter, resulting in the mourning director to forfeit his role as director after the majority of the picture was already filmed. Leaving the studio to subsequently hire on Marvel’s Avengers director, Joss Whedon, to take on directing duties for the remainder of production.
What wound up happening under Whedon’s lead was a large number of re-writes and reshoots, as well as a significant cutting down of the overall intended story within the editing room to trim the narrative down to exactly a two hour runtime. From my understanding, after a little looking into the matter, it is rumored that Snyder’s footage in the theatrical cut only amounted to approximately thirty minutes worth of the runtime time as the remaining ninety minutes belong to Whedon. Becoming somewhat less of a minor reshoot and much more of an overhaul of the entire film. What exactly belongs to Snyder or Whedon is relatively difficult to say, however, the end product at least managed to give a mostly completed story.
The 2017 theatrical release of Justice League didn’t exactly sit right with the majority of its viewers, calling it a “Frankenstein monster of a movie.” Since its release, there’s been a large online campaign by the public insisting that Warner Bros. release what they referred to as “The Snyder Cut.” For a long time, it wasn’t made apparent whether or not the Snyder cut of Justice League actually existed, at least not in the form of a finished full length feature film. At least, that was until Zack Snyder himself released an image on social media revealing the multiple film canisters which contained all of the footage from his version. In this declaration to prove that Snyder has enough to assemble another cut closer to his vision, the internet campaign grew even more relentless in their endeavors.
Then the people were met with a response by Warner Bros., DC, and Snyder combined in mid-2020 that it was finally going to happen. The Snyder Cut was officially greenlit to finish production after three whole years of sitting on the shelves and will be released sometime in 2021 on the streaming service HBO Max in a four hour long limited miniseries, then later to be released as one long feature film. Now we know that even if the rumors of the Snyder/Whedon structural ratio of the theatrical cut was remotely exaggerated, there’s still another two entire hours’ worth of material the world has been missing.
The world still in mourning about the death of Superman (Henry Cavill), in the wake of his absence now comes an ancient threat in the form of an intergalactic warlord named Steppenwolf (Cian Hinds). Determined to defend the Earth of Steppenwolf’s incoming invasion, Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) seeks to enlist a team of superpowered individuals to fight alongside him and his new-found ally, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot).
Good Before Bad
With my last few reviews I’ve written on the DCEU installments, I’ve made myself a mandatory effort to discuss the positives before delving into any of the negatives. Strangely enough, Justice League might actually be the first entry I have more decent things to talk about as opposed to what I find wrong with the movie. Even though the flick is far from perfect, I actually do retain a fondness for this theatrical version.
The League (Excluding the Flash)
To many, I’m sure an easy argument can be made that the Justice League is just DC’s desperate reach to make their own Avengers and to an extent that might be right. That being said, these are characters that feel completely of their own with their own distinct personalities. Yes, it’s fairly effortless to draw the links between both counterparts of each team; obviously Bruce Wayne/Batman is the equivalent of Tony Stark/Iron Man with the billionaire playboy turned vigilante angle, Wonder Woman is playing DC’s answer to Captain America as the warrior lost in time after fighting in a World War, Cyborg is the team’s Hulk in the sense that he’s a member who supposedly can’t be trusted because of his uncontrolled abilities, Aquaman is the bulky heartthrob with long luxurious hair of the group who originates from a place of myth akin to Thor, and Flash just runs fast.
Again, while there is obvious similarities, none of the DC characters ever feel like cynical knockoffs of what Marvel has to offer. When I stack Batman up against Iron Man, I can see the difference and not simply because they’re played by two completely different actors; there is a discernable difference between the way they act and their motives. Same with Wonder Woman and Captain America, Aquaman and Thor, etc. From a writing standpoint as well as how the characters are approached by each of the actors, it’s made very apparent that there was a conscious effort to distinguish the DC heroes from Marvel and make them their own persons with their own personal histories. Granted, we aren’t shown much of everyone’s origins, but we’re still given enough information to paint the pictures in our own minds so we can mostly understand who they are and their reasons for what they do in reaction to the events that go down.
Another element about the team I admire is the personal connections that select members make with one another; generating little moments to bring out a bit of life to the characters along with some charm in their newfound comraderies. Whether it be between Diana Prince/Wonder Woman and Bruce Wayne/Batman, Diana and Victor Stone/Cyborg, Arthur Curry/Aquaman and Bruce, Victor and Barry Allen/Flash. Unfortunately those connections aren’t the most fleshed out relationships and I definitely would have loved seeing more development. With that said, I still found enjoyment in their chemistry together growing from rocky starts to relatively endearing bonds.
Batman / Ben Affleck
I am unapologetically a huge fan of Batfleck and I always will be. Affleck, even in the theatrical cut of Justice League, is still my favorite Batman since Michael Keaton left the cape and cowl in 1992. He is beyond perfect in the role, from his physical presence to his emotional intensity, I love it all. Ben Affleck was my absolute favorite part about the entire Batman v Superman movie, and that remains the same for Justice League. Unfortunately, at least in this edition, Affleck is not provided nearly as much fun and raw material to work with. For me though, he still turns in a solid performance and I hope to God that one day he’ll decide to officially come back for an official stand-alone Batman film because this man truly does deserve it. Affleck is too damn good to not be given his own Batman movie! He was so close too and then unfortunately he stepped down as director and writer while the script has now been transformed into the Matt Reeves led production starring Robert Pattinson, The Batman, set to be released in October 2021; which still looks freaking awesome… but I want more f*cking Batfleck, God damn it!
Looks like The Batman is now set for release in 2022… I am sad.
Superman AND Henry Cavill (Excluding Upper Lip)
Superman is resurrected… Big shocker?
This is actually the first time in any of my reviews for the DC Cinematic Universe where I’ll be including a positive note for both the Superman character as well as actor Henry Cavill; where before I praised Cavill’s efforts in his performances, yet had criticized the writing of his character falling so flat. In Justice League though, for the very first time in the franchise, I genuinely felt that the writing and the acting finally synced well with one another. In Man of Steel there was no character depth or personality to speak of, for Batman v Superman it was more or less the same, now Superman is finally allowed some form of charm and likability to bleed through onscreen instead of constant superfluous brooding for the sake of brooding. For once, there’s light to this character and he feels like a real person rather than a boring exposition bot that gets sad. The movie actually opens on Superman in one of the best scenes in the movie, playing on a bittersweet note for the character as he contemplates on the question asked by a young boy, “What is the best thing about planet Earth” as the screen cuts to black just before answering.
In theory, I do like the idea of a darker and bleaker interpretation of the Superman character; it’s just unfortunate that the previous two installments didn’t execute that concept in a more interesting or entertaining way. In my opinion, I think that taking Superman back into a more lighthearted territory was the right approach. Although there was a moment or two immediately after Superman is brought back from the dead where Cavill is legitimately pretty damn intense in the most delightful of ways. Unsure if returning to the land of the living has possibly broken his mind or corrupted his soul as he briefly attacks the other members of the Justice League, containing a bit of a psychotic bloodlust in his eye, especially when facing Batman again… Which was pretty awesome!
One of the biggest problems I’ve had with certain entries of the DCEU was the major lack of focus held narratively speaking, incorporating either a dozen subplots or sloppily editing the story into a train wreck. With the exception of 2017’s Wonder Woman, all of the other movies have been a total cluster f*ck of storylines, becoming the definition of incoherency. Justice League, on the other hand, despite the obvious production difficulties that transpired, the story at least accomplished somewhat of a fluid pace and mostly solid structure. At least in comparison to what came before anyways, where it was practically impossible to describe what the hell was the main plot of anything going on.
No, I can’t say that the story is absolute perfection. From time to time it does feel as though we are hitting the fast forward button, cutting straight into the next big plot point before we have much time to process or letting specific elements be fleshed out as the story is speedily moving on. For instance, the idea of Superman going crazy and being a gigantic threat to all of mankind… is literally resolved in about five minutes. No joke. So occasionally there will be those huge leaps that are extremely glaring, but it’s hard to criticize those missteps when it’s such a drastic improvement from what has come beforehand.
There Lies the End of Our Positive Trip
As much as I enjoy this movie and am of the mind that the positives outweigh the negatives, for the most part… there are some major negatives that hold this back from being as solid as this comic book venture should be.
Not Quite the Epic
When I think of what the Justice League movie should be like, I’m picturing an action film of epic proportions. A story and action set pieces that encompass a grand scale beyond what any words could readily describe, imposing threats to give our characters a true sense of heavy risks at stake for them, effects and visuals that are stunning yet dark and gritty in almost every frame… we… didn’t… get… that… at all. Ultimately what we have here is a rushed product that mostly plays things safe. Any epic quality in the visuals or action is robbed by subpar special effects, the story is about as standard as any summertime blockbuster could get, the characters don’t have the depth nor are they compelled against anything to elicit a shred of danger. Justice League is a tame and mostly generic action movie that blends in with all the rest rather than stand out from the crowd as it rightfully should have.
I refuse to be subtle about this, Steppenwolf sucks. DC movies, in general, have had a bad problem with villains in the last decade or more. Ever since Heath Ledger’s Joker, there hasn’t been much to challenge the mantle of great villains for DC; Tom Hardy’s Bane was a laughable hybrid of Sean Connery and Darth Vader, Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor was a bad twitchy joke, CGI belly dancing witch from Suicide Squad was underwhelming, Michael Shannon’s General Zod was wooden, Wonder Woman had a nerdy British dude under a big suit of armor spouting out lazy “bad guy” lines anyone could sneeze out, and Clancy Brown was made into a God damn giant space turd with teeth!
Now we make our way to Steppenwolf, voiced by Ciaran Hinds; another great actor stuck with one of the lamest antagonists I’ve personally ever seen in a movie. Again, Hinds is a superb actor, but there was nothing to this role that he or anyone could work with. At least in terms of the theatrical cut I mean, as this is simply just another bad guy who wants to destroy the world… because? There is no because, he’s evil so therefore he exists to do evil sh*t for our heroes to fight against. That is it. There is no other reason for this individual existing in the universe other than to be the bad guy for the good guys to defeat. He’s not interesting in any way shape or form, he’s not the least bit intimidating, the effects used for creating him make him look straight out of a Playstation 3 era video game, and the dialog was clearly written during someone’s smoke break so they came up with whatever Saturday morning “bad guy” crap they heard their kids watching that day.
Steppenwolf f*cking sucks and I hate him! I hate him because he’s boring!! Steppenwolf is possibly the worst villain to come out of any comic book movie for the last decade. Not because he’s just a generic baddie, it’s because he’s so painfully uninspired and punishingly boring while containing some of the least convincing special effects I’ve seen on a character in my life. Another element that Marvel actually accomplished in their big bad, Thanos played by Josh Brolin, who was leaps and bounds far more convincing and imposing than what DC was capable of doing with Steppenwolf. Both roles actually theatrically released within the span of a year too.
Apologies for comparing the two properties, but this is one of those rare exceptions where I believe it is appropriate to compare the two villains of Thanos and Steppenwolf, seeing how they share so many similarities. Two big imposing warlords going from planet to planet, reigning down a hellish destruction to wipe out Earth’s population as they are both realized fully through the use of CGI. The difference being that the writers behind Avengers: Infinity War put in time and care while fleshing out Thanos so that the audience could understand his motives, yet still disagree with his methods and root against him. Steppenwolf is just a stock villain that everyone knows will not succeed and so we have to wait two hours for the good guys to just kick his ass already. There’s no delving into Steppenwolf’s motivations or origins or personality (or lack thereof). There’s nothing to this guy… F*ck this guy.
The Flash / Ezra Miller
If there is anything in this film that makes me legitimately rage from the sheer annoyance I gain from any character, it’s Ezra Miller as the Flash. I’m not entirely sure who to blame for Miller’s performance; Ezra himself, Snyder, or Whedon. Although if I had to guess, I’d probably say Whedon. Why do I say this and have such a major problem with this character? Because Flash is written in a way where it’s almost as though the character is self-aware of being in a movie and he’s so God damn obnoxious with his constant mugging to the camera with stupid goofy faces uttering the dumbest of lines just to make the idiots of the audience chuckle. Basically playing the part of the moronic audience member who riffs the movie, except he’s starring in said movie and I can’t f*cking stand him!
Every single scene Flash is in makes me instantly want to punch him right in the face. Because at no point does he feel like a real character, it feels like Joss Whedon having a field day forcing Flash into being the comic relief voicing what the biggest jackass in the audience would say to every scene.
After a while, I prayed for something terrible to happen to that loud mouthed, goofy faced f*ck. The Parademons would grab him or Superman would try crushing him and my fingers were completely crossed as I repeatedly chanted, “Kill him, kill him, kill him!” Yet it never happened… He lived… He always lived… I’m convinced there is no God now. I’m sorry to Ezra Miller, I really am, but his character is easily the worst part about this whole film. I don’t necessarily blame the actor, because I’m sure it was the direction he was told to go in by someone else. Although, I won’t lie when I say it makes me extremely nervous when I read about the fact that there will be MORE material incorporating the Flash character… F*ck me!
Cyborg / Ray Fisher
Talking on the topic of Ray Fisher in this movie is relatively tricky. According to the filmmakers, pre-release, the Cyborg character was supposed to represent the heart of the entire film. As it turns out in the final product, that idea did not seem to pan out as planned. Maybe the problem sourced from the reshoots and rewrites as we, the audience, don’t really get a whole lot of insight about Fisher’s character or all that much of a performance either as it feels there are crucial moments completely missing for his role to flesh out any sort of real depth; becoming rather difficult to gage how solid of a performance the actor is actually giving when it’s as though the role had been stripped almost entirely.
There were certainly shimmers of a decent job done by Fisher, then he would basically be an extra for the next twenty minutes until the next time he’s allowed another couple lines. I will say that the rare glimpses that Fisher manages to squeeze in seem to be good, especially for a first time film role. According to Fisher though, apparently there were some possible onset issues between him and Joss Whedon during the reshoots and I wonder if that had anything to do with why Cyborg seems to be lacking significant screen time. Here’s to hoping that the Snyder Cut is able to redeem this element and give us that heart promised with Cyborg originally.
One major element that stands out about Cyborg, and not in a good way, is this weirdly forced subplot that sporadically comes and goes about how the team possibly can’t trust Cyborg because of his connection with the Mother Boxes… Even though there is little to no reason presented to support that paranoia. Again though, it’s completely random and disappears faster than it appeared within the script. Out of nowhere, Aquaman will claim Cyborg can’t be trusted, but in the next scene no one will give a sh*t, like that idea was never mentioned. A very pointless attempt at tension amongst the team if anyone asks me, but maybe there’s more to it in the extended cut.
The Upper Lip
For anyone who doesn’t know the extent of how much the reshoots under Whedon’s direction truly affected the production, allow me to delve into a few details. So when Snyder had left the shoot, Superman actor Henry Cavill had already wrapped up all of his scenes and moved onto filming his next film, Mission: Impossible – Fallout. For that particular role, Cavill had to grow a bit of facial hair, specifically a mustache. Then when Whedon asked Cavill back on set, there was a small issue… Mission: Impossible production company, Paramount, refused to let Cavill shave his mustache as they claimed that it could risk the integrity of their own production. So Henry came back with a little extra to love on the upper lip, resulting in the reshoots needing to figure a way around their brand new hair problem; in other words, they used CGI to recreate the actor’s upper lip in post-production and it looks… terrible. Once or twice, the effect looks okay-ish. For the majority of the time though, it is wildly distracting to see this unnatural lip flopping over his teeth, which also look computer generated.
The Rest of the Effects Work
Not always nearly as badly rendered as Cavill’s upper lip, but honestly the special effects work was almost never convincing. Occasionally, from time to time, the CG looked fine; mostly in terms of Cyborg’s armor which would look halfway decent sometimes. For the most part though, digital matte paintings always immediately made the scenes apparent that I’m just watching actors moving around in front of a green screen. Or those obvious blunders when the scene shifts from having an onscreen actor into a CG puppet is painfully noticeable. Taking so much away from the epic quality of the visuals that this movie is sorely missing. Then of course with the awful inclusion of the fully CG villains, like I mentioned before, appearing straight out of a video game and definitely detracts from the “danger” factor that they should be evoking.
Another weird thing about the effects, specifically the green screening; because of the heavy involvement of green screens, it feels as though the actors in certain scenes aren’t actually onset together. As though every actor had to film their portion of the footage separately from one another, just so the actors could be spliced in together in a single shot during post production. No, I can’t be 100% sure about that being the case here. But looking at some of these scenes, that’s exactly what it looks like to me; the lighting between the characters and the background doesn’t look quite right, the directions each of the actors are facing look a tad off when they’re supposedly looking straight at each other, the proportions of the person further away from the camera will look a smidge too big or small, and I can practically see the digital outline of the actors as they move across the screen. It’s just always a tiny bit off from what I feel it should be appearing as.
What I Hope to See Improved
When the Snyder Cut is finally released in 2021, what I hope most to benefit from the new version will be that epic quality that a Justice League film rightfully deserves. This is supposed to be a mega event for all comic book blockbusters, even though I didn’t much care for Snyder’s previous installments of the series (Man of Steel and Batman v Superman), there is no denying that at the very least the director injected a sense of ambition within the filmmaking to create as epic of an experience as possible. There’s none of that ambition here in the theatrical cut sadly. Hopefully, that can change. For better or worse, I want to see an epic comic book flick that only Zack Snyder could make. Fingers crossed that it’s actually good and that the special effects are a hell of a lot better than what we’re stuck with now.
What I Fear
As mentioned already, my biggest issues before with what Snyder has done with the franchise is including minimal care to character development and has convoluted stories beyond repair. If there’s anything that the 2017 edition of Justice League accomplished, it was some semblance of focus and a personality exuding from the characters themselves. Rather than endless doom and gloom among every single exposition bot, there’s actually dimensionality and charm in our heroes for once; including my least favorite character, Barry Allen, he still has a personality to him; just one I so happen to despise. If those elements become missing in Snyder’s version, from my point of view, that would be more of a loss than his version not being made at all. Because at the end of the day, if Snyder’s cut is the jaw dropping epic we’re hoping for, yet a jumbled mess with no heart then what is the point? We need the heart and the clear narrative path to give a sh*t or else we end up simply watching random things happening for no reason and have no reason to care either.
Justice League is certainly a messy product overall, but there are too many good things about the theatrical cut that shouldn’t be dismissed altogether. Mostly when it comes to the heroes themselves… not including Flash… We get to like these heroes as people finally being fleshed out a little in the writing and charismatic acting. Now if the Snyder Cut is able to still include that care towards the characters in the writing and performances then that will be a different story. Until then, this is a valiant effort with a few decent aspects to offer. No, I won’t say that Justice League is a great movie and definitely not as good as it should have been, but the chemistry between the main characters is likable enough for me to enjoy the movie and look passed most of its faults… Not all of them… but most.
In all honesty, this probably could have been an absolute pile of crap and I still would have desperately sought out positives because… Batflack is f*cking awesome and he deserves all the love he can get! I refuse to apologize for my love of Ben Affleck as Batman. My only wish is that he’d reconsider leaving the role and come back for just one solo venture as the Dark Knight. Yes, I know that he’s signed on for reprising Batman as a supporting character in the new Flash movie… It’s not the same! Truthfully speaking, Affleck is, hands down, the best thing to happen to the DCEU and it’d be a shame never to give him a great movie to end his act on.
Sorry… It needed to be said! Anyways, Justice League might trip and fumble through its plot, but at least it has an easy-to-follow plot when compared to the two Snyder installments that came before it. Strangely enough, even though I enjoy Justice League as a whole more than Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, somehow I feel more of a respect for the ambition behind those two other productions as opposed to the more safe route taken by Joss Whedon’s Justice League. So do I recommend seeing Justice League? I do, but I also acknowledge the many faults and would understand if they were to cause anyone to dislike their experience. For myself, there are good things to enjoy and hopefully won’t be overshadowed by the Snyder Cut entirely once that is released.
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Which 'Justice League' is Best?
That’s All Folks!
Justice League… A success or failure? What do you think? Like or dislike? Agree or disagree? Keeping your fingers crossed for the return of Batfleck? Comment down below and let me know! Also, if you so happened to have enjoyed my review then please do me a favor and share this article around the social media world. Thank you all so much for reading and have yourselves a heroically good day!
© 2020 John Plocar